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Bart Stirling's Road to Success - Or, The Young Express Agent

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Project Gutenberg's Bart Stirling's Road to Success, by Allen Chapman This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.net Title: Bart Stirling's Road to Success Or; The Young Express Agent Author: Allen Chapman Release Date: May 25, 2005 [EBook #15903] Language: English Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1 *** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK BART STIRLING'S ROAD TO SUCCESS *** Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Ed Casulli and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team. A PIECE OF ROPE WAS LOOPED DEFTLY ABOUT BART'S ARMS. Bart Stirling's Road to Success Page 217 BART STIRLING'S ROAD TO SUCCESS Or The Young Express Agent BY ALLEN CHAPMAN AUTHOR OF "THE HEROES OF THE SCHOOL," "NED WILDING'S DISAPPEARANCE," "FRANK ROSCOE'S SECRET," "FENN MASTERSON'S DISCOVERY," "BART KEENE'S HUNTING DAYS," ETC., ETC. NEW YORK CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY 1908 THE BOYS' POCKET LIBRARY BY ALLEN CHAPMAN Cloth. Illustrated. Price per volume, 35 cents, postpaid. THE HEROES OF THE SCHOOL NED WILDING'S DISAPPEARANCE FRANK ROSCOE'S SECRET FENN MASTERSON'S DISCOVERY BART KEENE'S HUNTING DAYS BART STIRLING'S ROAD TO SUCCESS WORKING HARD TO WIN BOUND TO SUCCEED THE YOUNG STOREKEEPER NED BORDEN'S FIND CUPPLES & LEON CO, Publishers, New York BART STIRLING'S ROAD TO SUCCESS CONTENTS CHAPTER I THE THIRD OF JULY CHAPTER II "WAKING THE NATIVES" CHAPTER III COUNTING THE COST CHAPTER IV BLIND FOR LIFE CHAPTER V READY FOR BUSINESS CHAPTER VI GETTING "SATISFACTION" CHAPTER VII WAITING FOR TROUBLE CHAPTER VIII THE YOUNG EXPRESS AGENT CHAPTER IX COLONEL JEPTHA HARRINGTON CHAPTER X QUEER COMRADES CHAPTER XI "FORGET IT!" CHAPTER XII THE MYSTERIOUS MR. BAKER CHAPTER XIII "HIGHER STILL!" CHAPTER XIV MRS. HARRINGTON'S TRUNK CHAPTER XV AN EARLY "CALL" CHAPTER XVI AT FAULT CHAPTER XVII A FAINT CLEW CHAPTER XVIII A DUMB FRIEND CHAPTER XIX FOOLING THE ENEMY CHAPTER XX BART ON THE ROAD CHAPTER XXI A LIMB OF THE LAW CHAPTER XXII BART STIRLING, AUCTIONEER CHAPTER XXIII "GOING, GOING, GONE!" CHAPTER XXIV MR. BAKER'S BID CHAPTER XXV A NIGHT MESSAGE CHAPTER XXVI ON THE MIDNIGHT EXPRESS CHAPTER XXVII LATE VISITORS CHAPTER XXVIII THIRTY SECONDS OF TWELVE CHAPTER XXIX BROUGHT TO TIME CHAPTER XXX "STILL HIGHER!" BART STIRLING'S ROAD TO SUCCESS CHAPTER I THE THIRD OF JULY "You can't go in that room." "Why can't I?" "Because that's the orders; and you can't smoke in this room." Bart Stirling spoke in a definite, manly fashion. Lemuel Wacker dropped his hand from the door knob on which it rested, and put his pipe in his pocket, but his shoulders hunched up and his unpleasant face began to scowl. "Ho!" he snorted derisively, "official of the company, eh? Running things, eh?" "I am—for the time being," retorted Bart, cheerfully. "Well," said Wacker, with an ugly sidelong look, "I don't take insolence from anyone with the big head. I reckon ten year's service with the B. & M. entitles a man to know his rights." "Very active service just now, Mr. Wacker?" insinuated Bart pleasantly. Lem Wacker flushed and winced, for the pointed question struck home. "I don't want no mistering!" he growled. "Lem's good enough for me. And I don't take no call-down from any stuck-up kid, I want you to understand that." "You'd better get to the crossing if you're making any pretense of real work," suggested Bart just then. As he spoke Bart pointed through the open window across the tracks to the switch shanty at the side of the street crossing. A train was coming. Mr. Lemuel Wacker was "subbing" as extra for the superannuated old cripple whose sole duty was to wave a flag as trains went by. To this duty Wacker sprang with alacrity. Bart dismissed the man from his mind, and, whistling a cheery tune, bent over the book in which he had been writing for the past twenty minutes. This was the register of the local express office of the B. & M., and at present, as Bart had said, he was "running it." The express shed was a one-story, substantial frame building having two rooms. It stood in the center of a network of tracks close to the freight depot and switch tower, and a platform ran its length front and rear. Framed by the window an active railroad panorama spread out, and beyond that view the quaint town of Pleasantville. Bart had spent all his young life here. He knew every nook and corner of the place, and nearly every man, woman and child in the village. Pleasantville did not belie its name to Bart's way of thinking. He voted its people, its surroundings, and life in general there, as pleasant as could well be. Here he was born, and he had found nothing to complain of, although he was what might be called a poor boy. There were his mother, his two sisters and two small brothers at home, and sometimes it took a good deal to go around, but Bart's father had a steady job, and Bart himself was an agreeable, willing boy, just at the threshold of doing something to earn a living and wide-awake for the earliest opportunity. Mr. Stirling had been express agent for the B. & M. for eight years, and was counted a reliable, efficient employee of the company. For some months, however, his health had not been of the best, and Bart had been glad when he was impressed into service to relieve his father when laid up with his occasional foe, the rheumatism, or to watch the office at mealtimes. Bart was on duty in this regard at the present time. It was about five in the afternoon, but it was also the third of July, and that date, like the twenty-fourth of December, was the busiest in the calendar for the little express office. All the afternoon Bart had worked at the desk or helped in getting out packages and boxes for delivery. A little handcart was among the office equipment, and very often Bart did light delivering. On this especial day, however, in addition to the regular freight, Fourth of July and general picnic and celebration goods more than trebled the usual volume, and they had hired a local teamster to assist them. With the 4:20 train came a new consignment. The back room was now nearly full of cases of fruit, a grand boxed-up display of fireworks for Colonel Harrington, the village magnate, another for a local club, some minor boxes for private family use, and extra orders from the city for the village storekeepers. It was an unusual and highly inflammable heap, and when tired Mr. Sterling went home to snatch a bite of something to eat, and lazy Lem Wacker came strolling into the place, pipe in full blast, Bart had not hesitated to exercise his brief authority. A spark among that tinder pile would mean sure and swift destruction. Besides, light-fingered Lem Wacker was not to be trusted where things lay around loose. So Bart had squelched him promptly and properly. The man for whom "Lem" was good enough, was in his opinion pretty nearly good for nothing. Bart made the last entry in the register with a satisfied smile and strolled to the door stretching himself. "Everything in apple-pie order so far as the books go," he observed. "I expect it will be big hustle and bustle for an hour or two in the morning, though." Lem Wacker came slouching along. It was six o'clock, the quitting hour. Lem was always on time on such occasions. The whistle from the shops had ceased echoing, and, his dinner pail on his arm and filling his inevitable pipe, he paused for a moment. "Going to shut up shop?" he inquired with affected carelessness. "I am going home, if that's what you mean," replied Bart—"as soon as my father comes." "Not feeling very well lately, eh?" continued Lem, his eyes roving in a covetous way over the cozy office and the comfortable railroad armchair Mr. Stirling used. "No wonder, he takes it too hard." "Does he?" retorted Bart. "You bet he does. Wish I had his job. I'd make people wait to suit my ideas. How's the company to know or care if you break your neck to accommodate people? Too honest, too." "A man can't be too honest," asserted Bart. "Can't he? Say, I'm an old railroader, I am, and I know the ropes. Why, when I was running the express office at Corydon, we sampled everything that came in. Crate of bananas—we had many a lunch, apples, cigars, once in a while a live chicken, and always a couple of turkeys at holiday time." "And who paid for them?" inquired Bart bluntly. "We didn't, and no questions asked." "I am afraid your ideas will not make much impression on my father, if that is what you are getting at," observed Bart, turning unceremoniously from Wacker. "Humph! you fellows ought to run a backwoods post office," disgustedly grunted the latter, as he made off. Bart had only to wait ten minutes when his father appeared. Except for a slight limp and some pallor in his face, Mr. Stirling seemed in his prime. He had kindly eyes and was always pleasant and smiling, even when in pain. "Well! well!" he cried briskly, with a gratified glance at his son after looking over the register, "all the real hard work is done, the work that always worries me, with my poor eyesight. Come up to the paymaster, young man! There's an advance till salary day, and well you've earned it." Mr. Stirling took some money from his pocket. There was a silver dollar and some loose change. Bart looked pleased, then quite grave, and he put his hand resolutely behind him. "I can't take it, father," he said. "You have a hard enough time, and I ought to pay you for the experience I'm getting here instead of being paid." "Young man," spoke Mr. Stirling with affected sternness, but a twinkling in his eye, "you take your half-pay, make tracks, enjoy yourself, and don't worry about a trifle of a dollar or two. If you happen to drop around this way about nine o'clock, I'll be glad of your company home." He slipped the money into Bart's pocket and playfully pushed him through the doorway. Bart's heart was pretty full. He was alive with tenderness and love for this loyal, patient parent who had not been over kindly handled by the world in a money way. Then a dozen loud explosions over on the hill, followed by boyish shouts of enthusiasm, made Bart remember that he was a boy, with all a boy's lively interest in the Fourth of July foremost in his thoughts, and he bounded down the tracks like a whirlwind. CHAPTER II "WAKING THE NATIVES!" Turning the corner of the in-freight house Bart came to a quick halt. He had nearly run down a man who sat between the rails tying his shoe. The minute Bart set his eyes on the fellow he remembered having seen him twice before—both times in this vicinity, both times looking wretched, dejected and frightened. The man started up, frightened now. He was about forty years old, very shabby and threadbare in his attire, his thin pale face nearly covered with a thick shock of hair and full black beard. "Hello!" challenged Bart promptly. "Oh, it's you, young Stirling," muttered the man, the haunted expression in his eyes giving way to one of relief. "Found a job yet?" asked Bart. "I—haven't exactly been looking for work," responded the man, in an embarrassed way. "I should think you would," suggested Bart. "See here," spoke the man, livening up suddenly. "I'll talk with you, because you're the only friend I've found hereabouts. I'm in trouble, and you can call it hiding if you like. I'm grateful to you for the help you gave me the other night, for I was pretty nigh starved. But I don't think you'd better notice me much, for I'm no good to anybody, and I hope you won't call attention to my hanging around here." "Why should I?" inquired Bart, getting interested. "I want to help you, not harm you. I feel sorry for you, and I'd like to know a little more." A tear coursed down the man's forlorn face and he shook his head dejectedly. "You can't sleep forever in empty freight cars, picking up scraps to live on, you know," said Bart. "I'll live there till I find what I came to Pleasantville to find!" cried the man in a sudden passion. Then his emotion died down suddenly and he fell to trembling all over, and cast hasty looks around as if frightened at his own words. "Don't mind me," he choked up, starting suddenly away. "I'm crazy, I guess! I know I'm about as miserable an object as there is in the world." Bart ran after him, drawing a quarter from his pocket. He detained the man by seizing his arm. "See here," he said, "you take that, and any time you're hungry just go up to the house and tell my mother, will you?" "Bless her—and you, too!" murmured the man, with a hoarse catch in his throat. "I'll take the money, for I need it desperately bad, but don't you fret—it will come back. Yes! it will come back, double, the day I catch the man who squeezed all the comfort out of my life!" He dashed away with a strange cry. Bart, half decided that he was demented, watched him disappear in the direction of a cheap eating house just beyond the tracks, and started homewards more or less sobered and thoughtful over the peculiar incident. It was nearly eight o'clock when Bart got through with his supper, did his house chores, mended a broken toy pistol for one junior brother, made up a list of purchases of torpedoes, baby-crackers and punk for the other, and helped his sisters in various ways. Bart was soon in the midst of the fray. Every live boy in Pleasantville was in evidence about the village pleasure grounds, the common and the hill. Group after group greeted Bart with excited exclamations. He was a general favorite with the small boys, always ready to assist or advise them, and an acknowledged leader with those of his own age. He soon found himself quite active in devising and assisting various minor displays of squibs, rockets and colored lights. Then he got mixed up in a general rush for the sheer top of the hill amid the excited announcement that something unusual was going on there. The crowd was met by a current of juvenile humanity. "Run!" shouted an excited voice, "she's going off." "No, she ain't," pronounced another scoffingly—"ain't lighted yet—no one's got the nerve to do it." Bart recognized the last speaker as Dale Wacker, a nephew of Lem. He had noticed a little earlier his big brother, Ira, a loutish, overgrown fellow who had gone around with his hands in his pockets sneering at the innocent fun the smaller boys were indulging in, and bragging about his own especial Fourth of July supply of fireworks which were to come from some mysterious source not clearly defined. The Wacker brothers belonged to a crowd Bart did not train with usually, but as Dale espied him and seized his arm energetically, Bart did not draw away, respecting the occasion and its courtesies. "You're the very fellow!" declared Dale. "You bet he is!" cried two others, crowding up and slapping Bart on the back. "He won't crawfish. Give him the punk, Dale." The person addressed extended a lighted piece of punk. "Yes, take it, Stirling," he said. "Show him, boys." "Yes, you'll have to show me," suggested Bart significantly. "What's the mystery, anyhow?" "No mystery at all," answered Dale, "only a surprise. See it—well, it's loaded." "Clean to the muzzle!" bubbled over an excited urchin. They were all pointing to the top of the hill. Bart understood, for clearly outlined against the light of the rising moon stood the grim old sentinel that had done duty as a patriotic reminder of the Civil War for many a year. "Old Hurricane" the relic cannon had been dubbed when what was left of Company C, Second Infantry, came marching back home in the sixties. There was not a boy in town who had not straddled the black ungainly relic, or tried to lift the heavy cannon balls that symmetrically surrounded its base support. Two years before, Colonel Harrington had erected at his own expense a lofty flagpole at the side of the cannon and donated an elegant flag. Every Washington's Birthday and Fourth of July since, this site had been the center of all public patriotic festivities, and the headquarters for celebrating for juvenile Pleasantville. Bart was a little startled as he comprehended what was in the wind. He thrilled a trifle; his eyes sparkled brightly. "It's all right, Stirling," assured Dale Wacker. "We cleaned out the barrel and we've rammed home a good solid charge, with a long fuse ready to light. Guess it will stir up the sleepy old town for once, hey?" Bart was in for any harmless sport, yet he fumbled the lighted piece of punk undecidedly. "I don't know about this, fellows"—he began. "Oh! don't spoil the fun, Stirling," pleaded little Ned Sawyer, a rare favorite with Bart. "We asked one-legged Dacy on the quiet. He was in the war, and he says the gun can't burst, or anything." The crowd kept pushing Bart forward in eager excitement. "Why don't you light it yourself?" inquired Bart of Dale. "I've sprained my foot—limping now," explained young Wacker. "She may kick, you see, and soon as you light her you want to scoot." "Go ahead, Bart! touch her off," implored little Sawyer, quivering with excitement. "Whoop! hurrah!" yelled a frantic chorus as Bart took a voluntary step up the hill. That decided him—patriotism was in the air and he was fully infected. One or two of the larger boys advanced with him, but halted at a safe distance, while the younger ones danced about and stuck their fingers in their ears, screaming. Bart got to the side of the cannon. It was silhouetted in the landscape on a slight slant towards the stately mansion and grounds of Colonel Harrington, in full view at all times of the magnate who had improved its surroundings. Bart made out a long fuse trailing three feet or more over the side of the old fieldpiece. He blew the punk to a bright glow. "Ready!" he called back merrily over his shoulder. The hillside vibrated with the flutter of expectant juvenile humanity and a vast babel of half-suppressed excited voices. Bart applied the punk, there was a fizz, a sharp hiss, a writhing worm of quick flame, and then came a fearful report that split the air like the crack of doom. CHAPTER III COUNTING THE COST Bart had quickly moved to one side of the cannon after lighting the fuse, and was about twenty feet away when the explosion came. The alarming echoes, the shock, flare and smoke combined to give him a terrific sensation. The crowd that had retreated down the hill in delightful trepidation now came
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